Samuel 'Brigo' Abraham Speaks
"Doh Beat Mama Popo"
Samuel Abraham aka 'Brigo'
Interview recorded: February 17, 2006
Published: March 26, 2006
Samuel Abraham is a Trinidadian by birth and is popularly known in the Calypso World as 'Brigo'. He began singing Calypso in the 1960s and continued for almost five decades after. 'Brigo' is famous for performing a number of ingenious compositions and for his ability to contort his face to emphasize the story in his songs. His many years of contribution to the art form and exceptional work with young, aspiring artistes, have placed him as one of Trinidad and Tobago's true veterans. Some of his memorable Calypsos include: "Doh Beat Mama Popo", "Limbo Break", "Do So Ent Like So", "Obey", "Walking in the Dark", "After Carnival", and "Voodoo Man".
We are in the Victoria Suite Car Park on Victoria Avenue where the Vintage Calypso Brigade is taking place. Tonight 'Brigo' and other well-known and admired veterans like himself, are performing songs that are considered golden. We had the pleasure of speaking with 'Brigo' and this is what he had to say.
TRINISOCA: How has this year been for you?
BRIGO: It has been another experience in my life because I never thought that Trinidadians would have ended up this way. I believe it is the younger people who are calling for the foundation of Calypso. You are getting Vintage now (which spanned over fifty years or so) and it is the younger people who are asking for it because they are crossing it with Soca, Latin and a lot of sentimental. They are doing it with a cross and a fuse and I think they shouldn't lose their culture. I am experiencing something new.
TRINISOCA: How long have you been in this business?
BRIGO: I have been in this business since I was nineteen years old. Now I am sixty-five years of age and I feel proud to be my age. If you pick a mango and you eat it right away you wouldn't get the real sweetness, but if you put it to get stale you get the flavour. At my age I have a lot to teach people, so I am proud.
TRINISOCA: What has Calypso done for you?
BRIGO: Calypso made me know the world. It is my profession from which I make a living and it has taken me all over the world where I am an artiste that people know. Any part of the world you go and you say 'Brigo', the people know who you are talking about and that means a lot for Trinidad and Tobago. I am not thinking about myself alone, I am thinking about Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the world. This is how I look at the whole thing and I am proud.
TRINISOCA: What are your views on the shift between the Calypso and the Soca?
BRIGO: (Soft laughter) Calypso is the foundation. It is the foundation for Soca and Chutney... you call it, but calypso is the foundation. As I said earlier on, Calypso is what takes me all over the world and it will keep taking those who are coming all over the world for what they are doing. Maximus Dan sang a very nice one where he fused a Raga with Calypso and came up with a nice dimension. Explainer and Bunji also did something like that and it is big...they are heading the right way. People want to see Calypso go [forward]. But if you break all the pillars that are holding up your house, you wouldn't have a house. There are some people who are doing that because they do not know the value of their country. They find it is 'old thing' and 'long time thing'. If they do not have a past, they will never have a future. If they do not know where they are coming, they will never know where they are going and that will be bad for Trinidad and Tobago. Calypso is the mother for all music that is still with the "tiki tang ka tang"; even Reggae which is from right here in the Baptist Church...the 'Shouters'. That is why the youths like it so much, because it is from here.
TRINISOCA: Is there anything you would like to say to the people who are reading this interview?
BRIGO: There is one thing I would like to see them do and that is to cherish the older Calypsonians. To do that, they should call the radio stations and ask for the old songs from the 'Brigo', 'Stalin', 'Valentino', 'Shadow', 'Power', 'Bomber' and 'Terror'. Terror is sick right now but just by hearing himself he could get back well again.
I would also like to see people hiring the artistes in Trinidad and Tobago. They could give them a job every week and that way our country could remain the land of Steelband and Calypso. We must not lose that. Places like Barbados and Antigua must not take it away from us. I feel like it is threatening for some island or some country because there are a lot of visitors here who are documenting a lot of things and I feel we would lose it one day. We are a people who do not care about something while we have it. My mother used to say, "You never miss the water until the well runs dry", and it seems like we like that part. We like to miss the water and then start to bawl, "Dem Prime Minister and dem eh doing nothing. They are just a set of thieves". We are the thieves because we are not making sure we are prepared for the next five or ten years, we want it now. We live a fast life and we want a quick fix, but any hurry bird doesn't build a good nest.
Long time they used to say, "Brigo eh have nothing new?" Well, old thing is new thing today. That is why artistes like 'Maximus', 'Bunji' and Machel are taking the whole thing and making a bag of money and I am still not getting anything. You see how backwards we could be and "kill we dead we bright". We (the older Calypsonians) are the foundation; they are supposed to cherish us. When we have a show the people should come and sell it out so that we could get money to cut good records and make good videos. In years to come their children and grandchildren could sit in a room and feel proud to know that they are true Trinidadians and not copy cats. I wish I could see that. They will only talk highly about all what I am saying here if I die in the morning. But while I am alive you will hear, "Oh God 'Brigo' again? All yuh could take he on? When he start he doh want to finish." If I pass away in the morning you will hear them saying, "Oh God we will miss another great man", and you will hear how they will pound dey gum (when people do not know what they are talking about).
TRINISOCA: That is some people's modus operandi. Take Clive Bradley for example...he was a genius, but that level of his abilities was never really appreciated. Many people didn't understand 5% of what he could have done.
BRIGO: There are artistes who have passed away like 'Nappy Myers', 'Kitchener', 'Lion', 'Tiger' and many more. Every living day they are talking about them. They cannot rest in peace where they are. While you are alive these people take things for granted. When I am going through Port of Spain it's the youths and the older ones, mostly the women who are in their twenties or early thirties who call out to me. They would call me "Daddy Brigo" or "Uncle Brigo" and ask me how I am going and if everything is alright. Sometimes when the younger women are passing they would pinch me and when I look back they are gone. I know they are the real Trinidadians. The ones who play they are turning their heads when they see me only come down here to go back home. They must have missed something or probably lost their passport because they cannot watch me in my face.
When I go Jamaica and I see how the Jamaicans treat Jamaica I feel proud. Antigua is the same thing. I see how the Montserratians treat 'Arrow' and he doesn't have to give them anything. Jamaicans give to 'Cutty Ranks', 'Shabba Ranks', 'Red Rat', and 'Elephant Man'. They do not have to give people things, the people give to them. The ordinary people on the streets give to them. They cannot put their hands in their pockets fast enough and not hear, "What's that? What you do for us we cannot finish paying you." In response to that they will say, "Nah man, don't worry about that, we are all one, I could stand mey hand." Do not play you want to give to them when they feel they should give to you because when they give to you, they give back to the country and that is how they look at it. When we give to somebody here, we give to you. We didn't give Trinidad and Tobago anything. That is a bad thing and it makes people see problems in their own country.
When you set an example of giving back to the people who are contributing to building the nation, blessings will come because what goes around comes around. You are setting an example for everybody to do the same thing because one teaches the other. Some people do not care about all of that but they want big money; they never get any. Giving is energy. It's like wind, you do not see wind but you feel it. There are four elements, but if I ask some people what are the four elements they do not know. I do not feel like saying it now because if I say it they will say they already knew. We are a people who do not like to say thanks.
TRINISOCA: They do not remember the source of their information or the source of their instruction.
BRIGO: They always say, "I already knew that." They want to show you they are "big" and "well-educated". If they are so well-educated, why don't we get together as a people and march when the beef goes up by a penny? In America when beef goes up by half a cent they march in front of the supermarket. That builds strength and it shows the people as one; as a family. The cost of living there will stay at a certain level even though some of the people are not working. They will get something called 'dole'. We do not have any dole here. A five days (one week of employment by the government) and by the time you reach out by the road and buy two packs of nuts you are broke. It will always have poverty here. The people should be getting about fifteen hundred dollars a week whereby they could plant a garden and pay another person a few dollars to assist them.
If a country cannot feed itself it will be in trouble. Everybody should get together and bring back a family, like in the days of "Gayap". I could help you build your house and when it's time to build mine, you come and give me a hand. That's the only way we could bring back where we could buy food and cook. It must be well established and not be a creepy thing. The reason why you are not getting that kind of money is because we want to be able to bring back family life where each one helps the other. It will also keep the crime rate down because we will be able to talk to the youths and their families. If we do these things, then the time will come back when everybody will be saying, "Good morning", when they meet each other and "I am sorry", "Have a good day", "Good night", "Excuse me", "Sleep well" and so on. These are the things money cannot buy. I say raise the people salary and give them about fifteen hundred dollars a week. I am talking about the people who are contributing, not the people who are standing idle by the roadside and not doing anything. I am talking about the people you observe and feel they are worth it. Have surveyors out there to observe the people. They should try to move this amount of stress and depression because it is like an invisible cancer that is taking this country and mashing it up. Cancer is a painful thing and no doctor could cure it because it is invisible. The doctor takes all your money and cannot find your complaint.
I am going into 'Brigo' the Calypsonian now; I am not talking like Samuel Abraham anymore. I have two characters which are Samuel Abraham and 'Brigo'. The only thing to stop crime here is fifteen hundred dollars which is a 'six' and we are going bury this monster in a 'hole', and a 'six' is a 'hole'. Give the people fifteen hundred dollars either a fortnight or a week and start to show them how to utilize that fifteen hundred dollars. We want back morality. We are supposed to have from the schools back to the homes where anybody could stand up and talk to a boy child because is Uncle 'Brigo', Uncle 'Crazy' or Uncle 'Duke'. Bring back the uncle and the aunty days because we are supposed to be a family now. That fifteen hundred dollars must have a meaning. The reason for that fifteen hundred dollars is for what I just talked about. Build that awareness into the people and it will help. It wouldn't be a quick fix; it is a plant to put into the ground and it will grow as long as you keep nurturing it. They are not doing that, they do not want any talk, and when they kill they saying hang them. Thou shall not kill. The man who is hanging the other man is not better than the man who killed. There are many ways of hanging a dog without putting a rope around its neck. What I explained is a way to hang to dog without putting the rope around the neck.
All these things I just explained are really the fabric to put back the country into shape. It is a Calypso and we should have Calypso talk here. America and London have Calypso talk. Not really Calypso talk, but they have talk to the music of their country. They have concerts to talk. People pay to hear talk. Over here when you are singing a Calypso and you take a little breather to tell the audience something they will tell say, "We eh come here to hear talk...sing!" They want you to kill yourself and don't take a breather, just sing until you fall down. Do you see the kind of thing we have here? It seems like everything foreign is good but everything local is not good. That is a bad thing and they are misinterpreting it. They should be playing Calypso and Steelband music, the music of the land. But if you check is foreign thing, because the people who are pushing foreign music is not people that belong here. They are the people who come here to set up shop. They promote their thing and play whatever around what they are playing. Tonight I left a show about gun play and shooting. This is a crime because it feeds the subconscious mind of the child who doesn't know better about how to live. The child might feel that is the right way to go and anytime he gets upset he buys a gun or borrow one and then he shoots my family and his family shoots my family until it turns into a killing without stop. I talked earlier about how to stop that.
Long time when I pass Miss Mary and I don't tell her good morning, I will get a 'ring ear'. If I go home and tell my mother Miss Mary ring my ears she will say, "The lady wouldn't ring your ears for nothing. Come here and let me give you two straps." And I will get two straps from my mother. But all of that is gone now. When my mother pick fig she would send some for Miss Mary or Miss Gatha and when Miss Gatha digs dasheen or yam they would send some for my mother. That was a thing right through Trinidad.
TRINISOCA: That was ancient African practices.
BRIGO: Yes...and that is gone now. When they baked bread and sweetbread they would send for Ma John and when Ma John baked farina and cassava bread she would send for Miss Mary and Miss Gloria. All of those things are gone now. They say they don't want crime, but they will get crime till they are crying because morality gone. The family life, the respect and the honor have all gone through the window. Just now they wouldn't like Calypso and some people already do not like it. That is why when you go to some shows it buss [financial loss]. Those are bad signs of things to come. It's the youths who are trying to bridge it with whatever songs that might be a sentimental and mix it up with a little Calypso. Then there are the folks who miss the bus and do not understand how the system works. They would say, "Dem eh singing Calypso. I doh know what they are singing." The youths are bridging to keep the Calypso alive... to keep 'Brigo' alive.
I am getting more love from the youths now than when I was now coming up to be 'Brigo'. When I am walking down Frederick Street and they are coming from school, I would hear them saying, "All yuh look Brigo", and they would take out their pens and copy books because they want my autograph. When I was coming up to be 'Brigo' I didn't get that. I know 'Spoiler' and them used to get it (laughter). Now I am getting it, well, oh God! The other day when 'Mudada' and I went to Grenada, it was the end of a school day by the time we arrived and if you see children heading my way. I was looking back to see if something was going on behind my back, but it was 'Mudada' and I they were heading toward. They get us on the television over there so everything happening here they are seeing it. Hear Mudada, "Brigo, I could understand if we are in Trinidad, but here too?" All who gave me their thing to sign I didn't know them but they knew me. I have a problem with that because there are people here in Trinidad who I do not know but they feel I should know them. They see me on the television and in the newspaper and feel I am seeing them too so when they see me on the road I shouldn't pass them. Do you see the backwardness? They would say things like, "Look how he passing mih, 'Brigo' and them like to show off."
I am showing you the weakness in our society. They figure because they are familiar with me I am supposed to know them. Instead of them walking up to me and say something like, "Brigo, my name is John Doe and I am glad to meet you. I like your work and I tell my children to love Calypso and the Steelband, the music of our land." You can even tell them you met an Icon and let your son or daughter meet him. Introduce him or her to shake hands and say, "This is 'Brigo'... you do not pass him anywhere; have some respect for him so that he could always look out for you if anything bad is happening to you." You do not go about saying things like, ''Brigo, look at you nah. You get big now and don't know anybody." When I say, "I do not know you", I would get a response like, "How you don't know me? You can't remember ten years ago I shook your hand?" I am supposed to remember if somebody once in my life ten years after shook my hand (laughter)? They see me in the newspaper regularly. When I came out with the advertisement "Det [insect spray] kills them dead", they well mark my face. Every time I come out with my advertisements, in their minds they tell themselves I am seeing them too, so I shouldn't play I am passing them straight. The subconscious mind is a good thing but when people cannot use it, it is a bad thing.
My grandfather used to tell me, "common sense isn't common". It is only now as I am older I understand what he meant and it really isn't common. There are people with school leaving passes and they cannot use their common sense. The passes are not worth anything to them because they are still looking for work instead of saving some money and opening a coals shop down the road where people could buy coals for bar-b-que. If they cannot get the work for the kind of money they are looking for, they do not want the work. Sometimes the people who are giving them the work do not want that kind of high brain in their work. They want somebody with a lower brain, so they still cannot get the work. When they cannot get the money they want to work for, they pick up a trade and they look for a dustbin. Do you know how many of them I pass in the dustbins? But common sense as we say is not common...they just do not known how to use their common sense. From the time they have passes, something hits them and they cannot carry their glory. They do not know how to get around life anymore. People here should be going to school. When you come out of school, whether you would like to be a pilot or whatever, you have to go and learn something. You should have a plan to learn how to build a house, be a painter, a barber, a cook, a gardener or a plumber. You are supposed to go and learn something skillful so that you could work for great money.
You could leave and go outside for ideas and come back. Bring back that money home and set up shop again. You could open a grocery to make Trinidad look good. When you come from school you should be able to go to a training school. There are training schools here in Trinidad to teach you how to do all these things but not enough. If I was the Prime Minister I would put six training schools in each village. I would come out with money and when you start to learn, I will start to pull back my money. When you know what to do, instead of giving you ten dollars, I will give you five dollars. The other five dollars will go back in the kitty. Five dollars will be for me because I was giving you ten dollars while you were learning for six months or maybe a year and a half. There will be exams and from the time I see you pass the exam and could do the skill, I will give you five dollars instead of ten because you owe the state. Do you see how a Calypsonian is different? There are people who cannot be Calypsonians even if they are holding a big post in this country.
A Calypsonian is a different human being...you are born with a gift. There are fellas who get Calypso and when they get Calypso they spoil. Everybody is born gifted, but you have to put that craft into practice so that you could grow and become independent. Not everybody could use the gift they were born with. Some people use their gift for what they were trained to use it for but they never got a chance to learn and develop what they were truly good at. Let me make this clear. If a child who is eight months or a year old is taking chalk and marking all over, you have to watch that child because he/she could either be a teacher, lawyer or a magistrate because he is always marking. You have to start to observe the child and push him/her that way and you will see what a brilliant child you have. Sometimes the child might like kicking a ball and anywhere he sees a ball he would kick it. He could be a great sportsman in the field of cricket, basketball or football and so on. The child might like being in the river and bathing a lot. He may want to swim and could be a great athlete. Parents have to pay attention. God never send anybody without bread.
My mother used to say, anytime a woman is making a child she is supposed to read a lot but some women do not know this. You are supposed to read. The child nurses on that vision and energy. When some parents going through changes they may not want the child because they figure the child might stop their happiness so the child becomes an obstacle. They will start to take it on and the more they take it on is the more stressed the child will be when he/she comes out. The child will not focus properly because he or she was damaged while developing and then they want to kill it [the child] with licks. It is not to beat the child, but to scold the child. Beating the child is when people taking out the stress on the child. I understand that, and that is why I made the song "Doh Beat Mama Popo". That song will always be a gem. Scold the child with two little straps in the palm of his/her hand and talk to the child. Besides talking, you demonstrate to the child how you will wash the wares and he/she could rinse. The next week you show them how to sweep out the house, hang up the curtains and make up the bed. The child will grow knowing when he gets up, he says his prayers and make up the bed. He will learn to keep his clothes tidy and change it every other day and do not wear it dirty. The child should know how to say "Excuse me", "I am sorry", "Thank you", "Good night", "Have a good day" and "Sleep well". These things are very important in our lives. Those are the things that will help get rid of crime. All these things are solutions for crime and still they do not want to encourage the practices, so they will get crime till they cry.
Giving a man a very low salary with the cost of living so high is a crime, not only taking a gun and shooting a man. Low wages with the cost of living so high is where the crime starts and also from not having love in the neighborhood too. Even when a man who knows you passes you on the road, although he is not busy, he wouldn't stop to find out where you are going and if everything is alright with you. You might offer to pay at some time for the ride and if he knows things are not so good with you, he could still ask you. Then you could say, "No boy, things not so good with me." He could say, "Leave that, this ride I am giving you is on me." Some people would keep their money instead of offering to pay, but there is something called method of approach. If people know how to approach other people they will get the truth. Our family life is not good here; it is rotten and that is what is causing crime. The older folks are going and the young ones coming are dying so there isn't anything to hold on to. The only thing to hold on to is Calypso and Steelband, sports and a good salary when the week comes. We are going through the era of the '60s. People should be getting fifteen hundred dollars a week or a fortnight. The media could show them how to invest it.
TRINISOCA: Do you think it is the media's interest to do that?
BRIGO: Yes, the media is our family... everybody's family.
TRINISOCA: I am talking about mainstream media. Most of the mainstream media is owned by the people who benefit from how the society is now.
BRIGO: Well boy, the mainstream media better wake up because a time will come when while they are studying how to get richer, the gap will keep getting wider between the "haves and the have not". They will create a monster for themselves and would not be able to sleep in their own house. They better wake up and not get carried away with the big money and study how much big millions they want and how many trillions they will make. God doesn't like that. God is the creator of all things. God is fire, water, earth and wind.
TRINISOCA: You finally said it.
BRIGO: Yes, it is not a statute or a cross. That is just to remind you that God gave his only son for love and to save us, that is all. People have to learn to respect each other and plant food because God is within the earth. Without food, fire (which is heat), water, and wind to breath, we cannot live. When they say it doesn't have a God, these people are trying to fool people who they do not have any respect for. They will make a living by making people believe it doesn't have a God. They bow down to the statue, but God say not to bow down to any graven images because he is a jealous God. But people still bow down to graven images. I just defined what is God but there are people who wouldn't want to hear that. Maybe they are not supposed to eat, breathe, drink water and they are not supposed to cook anything to eat and stay out of the sun. The Lord say man will love something more than Him and I was wondering what it was. I didn't know it was money. Money is not to love; it is something to go along side life. It is not to lust on. Learn to love God and to love Him and you love your neighbor. If you do not love who you could see, you cannot love who you cannot see. From there your mind will open up and everyone who I am referring to will know how to change around things. This is how I feel and how I focus. This is what made me a Calypsonian. You talked to a real Calypsonian tonight.
TRINISOCA: Thank you very much sir.
Vintage Calypso Brigade in Pictures: